Racial Equity Matters: GCF’s workshops offer eye-opening lessons

As part of our Special Report on Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Groundwater racial equity workshops, we are presenting stories of people who experienced the trainings and their responses to it. This is the first in that series.

READ THE FULL SPECIAL REPORT: Diving into the Groundwater: Exploring the depths of racism.


As a professional in the field of corporate philanthropy, Sunny Reelhorn Parr was aware of issues around racial disparities and was motivated to talk about them.


But participating in racial equity workshops offered by Greater Cincinnati Foundation was both eye-opening and thought-provoking for her.


Parr is one of about 2,000 people in Greater Cincinnati who, since 2019, have participated in one of Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Racial Equity Matters, presented by bi3, Groundwater trainings. Groundwater is a program of the Greensboro, N.C.-based Racial Equity Institute, a not-for-profit founded to help create more equitable institutions and challenge traditional

assumptions about race. Greater Cincinnati Foundation adopted the program as a key element of its initiative, Racial Equity Matters.


“No prior training or education compares to what the Racial Equity Institute brought to Cincinnati,” Parr says. “To me, Racial Equity Matters, at its core, goes much deeper than previous trainings into the history of race. It explores the systems of inequities and it allows people to better understand society and learn so much more about racial inequity.”


The Groundwater program is a deep dive into historical data on income and socioeconomic mobility to examine why some of the core constructs of our society – education, health care, and criminal justice, among them – are weighted against Black people and other people of color.


In 2020, the Racial Equity Matters program was presented eight times virtually to the community.


Groundwater is followed up with a training called Phase 1, which is typically a two-day session in a smaller group that involves more dialogue and interaction among the participants. Parr has participated in both, pre-pandemic.


“I got to rub shoulders during the in-person setting with other leaders from corporations, education, and other people who care deeply about the issue,” she says. “It was such a great mix of community representatives, who dedicated two days to learning and growing. It’s a big commitment, but I learned so much.”


The sessions go beyond data and present windows into the experiences of others — insights that may create discomfort in some participants.


Parr says she experienced some of that discomfort during the workshops. “I felt like I had a decent understanding going in, but I learned quite a bit and fully immersed myself in the content,” she says. “Overall, the experience really changed me and the  way I approach my professional role in leading corporate philanthropy as well as personal conversations with

neighbors in my community.”


She feels she grew personally and professionally from the experiences. “Professionally, I’ve applied it in so many of my conversations, in so much of what I lead at The Kroger Co. Foundation office,” she says. Earlier this month, The Kroger Co. Foundation announced $3 million in grants to four organizations working to build more equitable communities.


“My professional work to support racial equality in communities around the nation was not what I originally signed up for. And although it is challenging, I could not imagine it any other way in today’s environment,” she says.


Personally, the experiences caused her to think about her and her husband’s young son. “How do we properly inform and educate our son with our country’s history? And furthermore, how can we inspire him – above all things – to be himself and lift up all those around him?”


Parr says she is looking forward to participating in REI’s Phase II workshop, which examines internalized racial perspectives and how those affect outcomes in our work and family lives.


“Especially with the recent racial unrest from this summer, the narrative continues to build,” she says. “I commit myself to continue on my path of listening and learning to help be the change I wish to see in this country.”

This Special Report on Racial Equity Matters presented by bi3 has been made possible with support from Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading, or watching classic movies.